Sunday, March 22, 2015

Across and down to Stamford

This weekend I'll be once again competing in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

I began going to this competition seven years ago, when it was being held in Brooklyn.

This year the tournament is returning to Stamford, Conn., which is where it started in the 1970s.

As in past years, I'll be reporting on the tournament -- and on how I did.

So feel free to bate your respective breaths. (As for me, I'm nervous enough about switching trains in Manhattan....)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ms. Sutkus, can you ever forgive me?

I learned to type while I was in high school, more than 40 years ago.

I learned to type on a manual typewriter, under the tutelage of a very nice – and very young and attractive – woman whom I will call Ms. Sutkus, which seems like a reasonably good idea, considering that her name really was Ms. Sutkus. (And yes, you smart-alecks out there, she did have an actual first name, but I’m going to honor her privacy and not reveal it – it’s the least I can do, considering what I have done to her.)

There were maybe 25 students in the class, and every day we would type exercises out of a book, usually to the tune of some classical music. I can’t remember what most of those tunes were, but there is one that I’ve always remembered, and on the rare occasion when I’ve heard it – I still don’t know the name or composer – I always think of that typing class, and Ms. Sutkus, and what I have done to her.

From the get-go I was quite good at typing, probably because I had taken piano lessons for five years, and my skills on a musical keyboard seemed to translate well to an Underwood or Smith-Corona or whatever we used in class.

So after I completed that yearlong class I felt that I was a fairly good typist, though not perfect, of course. Who is?

Several months after I finished my college years – during which I dutifully typed all my papers on the portable Smith-Corona my uncle gave our family (and which now sits a few feet away for me, kept for sentimental purposes) – I walked into the newsroom of my local newspaper, asked to be considered for an opening I’d heard about, and took an editing test.

After reviewing my test, the managing editor gave it back to me and told me to type it up on one of the newsroom typewriters.

An electric typewriter.

I had never before used an electric typewriter, but I wasn’t about to tell the M.E. that.

And in retrospect, I probably didn’t really have to tell him that.

He probably figured it out after it took me one hour to type the test, which was maybe three pages of double-spaced text.

But he hired me anyway, and thus began a career that spanned more than 30 years.

During which I became more accomplished in the use of an electric typewriter.

Then the computers came in, and I adjusted to those keyboards, too.

But in recent years I think I might have adjusted all too well.

Because computers are, to an extent, forgiving. If you mistype something, chances are it will auto-correct it for you. (It did just that a moment ago, as I was mistyping “mistype.”)

And because you don’t have to stop and erase something, or use that smelly white stuff to cover it up (and it usually looks cheesy later and doesn’t fool anybody, does it?), well, you can get lazy.

I know this has happened to me. If I had a dime for every time I mistyped something while in a hurry on a computer – on the job or not – it still wouldn’t repay Ms. Sutkus, who is God knows where right now, for all the shame that I, once a star pupil, have caused her.

And this late in life I know I will never be able to make it up to her.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

For your holiday reading pleasure (I hope)....

Some years ago I wrote a holiday mystery story, "The Afternoon Before Christmas."

And for some years it appeared on a mystery website, and every year I would link to it.

For the past few years I haven't linked to it because it was no longer online.

But I'm happy to say that it is now appearing on the Over My Dead Body! website. It is 1,500 words long, you can read it free and you can find it here.

And I hope you will take the opportunity to browse the rest of the Over My Dead Body! website because there are a lot of fine people writing for it, and the person who runs it, Cherie Jung, is one of the most considerate and professional editors around.

Feel free to let me know what you think of "The Afternoon Before Christmas."

And last -- and most important -- happy holidays!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Who says big business doesn't have a heart?

A friend of mine who turned a year older this week posted this note on Facebook:

"Awww. I got a picture of a birthday cupcake from the bank that I finance my car through."

"How sweet," I replied. "Next month, send them a picture of a check."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Smiles from some long-ago summer nights

In my household, one of the pleasures of being a kid in the summer was the occasional granting of a rare privilege:

Staying up past your usual bedtime.

I can’t recall exactly what that usual bedtime was, but I know for darn sure that I was in bed by 11 – and probably by 10 – most nights.

But once in a while in the summer, my parents would ease this restriction and I would be allowed to see some of the stuff I’d been missing.

I especially remember one night when it was so hot that I and my younger siblings were allowed to sleep downstairs in the living room, on bed sheets, after watching “The Tonight Show”! (Not to mention listening to the national anthem at the end of the now interminable “broadcast day.”)

This was in the early 1960s. Johnny Carson had taken over the show, but on this particular night the host was Groucho Marx, who introduced a comic we’d never seen before. I still remember his routine – something about karate.

It was Bill Cosby, not very long before his groundbreaking role in “I Spy.”

Usually we were in bed long before "The Tonight Show" came on, though my folks might make an exception if it was New Year’s Eve.

But sometimes we made it all the way to 11 p.m. before our parents decided that enough was enough, even for a summer night.

One show I remember – I think it was on Wednesday nights – was called “Stump the Stars.” It was basically charades with celebrities. I never quite understood the show – I’ve never been a big fan of charades, and the charades that were acted out were quite long. Watching Sebastian Cabot act out some not-very-funny joke wasn’t exactly the cultural highlight of the season, but hey – it’s past my bedtime, and I’m downstairs watching TV!

“Stump the Stars” was hosted by a guy named Mike Stokey, whose whole career seemed to consist of hosting this show under various titles over the years. I recently watched one episode on YouTube. I’d never seen the episode, but it pretty much seemed like the few episodes I managed to see in the 1960s, with celebrities whose names will probably be familiar only to those of my generation and earlier: actress Phyllis Kirk, comedian Jerry Lester and the great actor/raconteur Hans Conried. In one neat live TV moment, the rather conservative Conried takes offense at something done by Lester off screen. (Not surprising, considering that the works of Noel Coward were conspicuously absent from Lester’s resume.)

Another show I watched way back when, but which I don’t remember too well now, was “Masquerade Party.” The idea was simple: a celebrity comes out in a costume, and the panel has to guess who it is. I found an episode on YouTube, but though it was enjoyable enough, something that happened at the end bothered me: They brought out another celeb, also costumed, whose identity would be guessed the following week. Nothing wrong with that, but when you’re watching the show 50 years later and you realize you’ll never find out who this person is, well, it feels a little creepy, though I can hardly blame the producers for that.

One series that I remember – and it’s well-represented on YouTube – is “What’s My Line?” I can remember staying up late on a summer Sunday and watching these sophisticated people play the game – live! And there was something thrilling about seeing the mystery guest come out, always to great applause.

As I watch the episodes on YouTube, the show seems exactly the way I remember it from when I was a kid. New York seemed a different, more magical place then, and even now it’s fun to watch an unmasked mystery guest reminisce with a panelist about some play they once did together. It makes me almost want to take a vacation via time machine: A week in New York in the 1950s or 1960s. You’ll notice I said “almost” – there would always be the chance that I’d be disappointed, that the world of New York wasn’t really golden but bronze -- or even leaden.

However, it is a nice place to visit on YouTube, which I often do when I should be doing something else like, um, blogging. (I especially recommend seeking out the episode where mystery guest Red Skelton is quizzed by blindfolded panelist Fred Allen. Live, ad libbed TV comedy doesn’t get any better.)

But it did occur to me recently that in today’s world, a producer would be less likely to risk doing “What’s My Line?” live.

Because it amazes me to think that during the show’s Sunday night run, which lasted about 17 years, with most of the episodes live, they always brought out a mystery guest and no one – NO ONE – in the audience ever yelled out something like, “Hey, it’s Jackie Gleason!” It probably would never have occurred to anyone in the audience to do that.

Today? I’m not so sure, though I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

You know you're getting old...

... when the TV news headline says "Obama addresses Iragi conflict" and you immediately hear Art Carney saying, "Hello, Iraqi conflict!"

Monday, July 21, 2014

Then again, sometimes a nozzle is just a nozzle

Whenever I pass a gas station, I occasionally wonder what Sigmund Freud would think if he saw one of those gas pumps that have a sign on top of it that says "Self."